How Structure is Linked to Function


Chiropractors are known for assessing peoples’ spines and posture, but many people don’t understand WHY.

“Doesn’t everybody have one leg shorter than the other?”
“So what if my spine is misaligned?  I’m not in pain.”
“I heard arthritis is a normal part of aging.”
“But it feels more comfortable to slouch.”
“My mom/dad looks the same way.  It’s genetic.”

1.) Poor structure leads to faulty biomechanics.

Could you imagine riding a bicycle with a dented rim (wheel frame)?  The dent affects the integrity of the rim, so the more you ride the bike, the more the rim deforms.  At the same time, the dent makes for a rougher ride.  You’ll have more shock to your body, which can make the ride less comfortable and can cause mini-injuries to your body.  The dent will also affect efficiency.  It will take more effort to travel the same distance. How does this relate to the body?  If one leg is shorter than the other, you’ll be less balanced.  It will take more effort to stand up straight and for your brain to re-calculate your stride when you walk or run.  If you miscalculate, you can stumble and fall.  You’ll also land differently with every step.  This places uneven force onto your heels, ankles, knees and hips.  The result is excess wear-and-tear on your joints on one side of the body, which can lead to pain, arthritis, stress fractures, bone spurs, shin splints, muscle spasms and strains and torn ligaments.

2.) Poor structure affects brain function.

When you think of a drunk person, you can see how altered brain function can affect body function (poor balance, poor coordination, less fine motor skill).  How can structure affect brain function?  Remember how the short leg means the brain has to re-calibrate movements and work harder to keep the body balanced?  It takes a lot of extra brain and nerve energy to compensate for distorted structures in the body.  Imagine you need to walk on a balance beam while wearing one high heeled shoe and answering math problems.  When you’re concentrating on balance and coordination, you’re more likely to have trouble focussing, learning, thinking clearly, coming up with ideas and relaxing.  You may describe it as having a mental fog or mental exhaustion, mental stress or mental overwhelm.

3.) Poor structure affects moods and personality.

Imagine how annoying it is when a 4-legged table has one or two legs shorter than the others.  It is rickety and your pencil might roll off the table.  It’s harder to write neatly when the table tips to one corner, and then another.  It is annoying when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to and you have to work harder to accommodate it somehow.  Well… the same thing happens with your body.  When you need to think more about your movements so you won’t fall; when you have to concentrate about sitting up; when standing still is uncomfortable; when it takes more effort to reach, lift, turn, etc… it’s annoying.  All these annoyances build up and can affect your outlook on life.  You may end up feeling stressed, angry, frustrated, defeated, irritable, impatient or distracted.  Eventually, it can affect your relationships with other people in your life.

4.) Poor structure affects organ function.

Have you ever tried to blow up a balloon inside a box? It’s not easy, and if the box is small, the balloon won’t be able to expand to its full size, no matter how hard you blow into it.  Hunching your shoulders forward results in a shrunken chest cavity.  This means there’s less room for your lungs to expand and you can’t take as deep a breath as you should.  Arthritis in the upper back vertebrae will also reduce the flexibility of the ribcage, as will misaligned joints of the upper spine and rib cage.  This will, in turn, affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively throughout the body.  This can affect your aerobic capacity, endurance with sports, energy level, quality of sleep and even mental alertness.

5.) Poor structure affects nerve communication, which exacerbates all other problems.

Many people have no idea how pervasive their nerves are, and how important nerve communication is for living, breathing, moving, healing, growing, thinking and making sense of the world.  According to Grey’s Anatomy (the book, not the TV show), “the purpose of the brain and nervous system is to control and coordinate the function of every cell, tissue, organ and system in the body and help them adapt to changing needs and environment.”  Your brain and nerves are intimately involved in thoughts, emotions, understanding what’s going on in and around you (sensory processing), behaviour, learning, and sense of self.  What does structure have to do with nerves?  Our nerves travel from our brain, through the spinal column, exit between the bones of the spine, and travel to all parts of the body.  Anywhere along the way, the nerves can get irritated, pulled, pinched and damaged.  The most sensitive area is where the nerves enter and exit the spine.  Therefore, even subtle misalignments of the spine can affect nerve communication, even without pain.

If it doesn’t hurt, then nothing’s wrong… right?  No.  Of the trillions of nerves in our body, less than 5% carry pain information.  Priority messages to the brain and throughout the body are carried on faster (myelinated) nerves and on a larger number of nerves.  Pain nerves are few and slow in nature.  Much more abundant and faster are nerves for proprioception- sense of position in space and time-aka structure and structure though motion.  When the structure is altered, more nerve energy is used on this, thereby diverting energy that could be used for agility, balance, thought, patience, growth and healing.  If the structural distortion causes nerve irritation or damage, even more nerve energy is wasted.  In addition, the brain may get false messages, and so muscles, organs and systems are given false instruction, thus leading to further malfunction, dis-ease and eventually disease.  These false messages also make life more difficult.  Therefore, even if pain is not present, subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes can affect emotions, behaviour, personality, sensory processing, learning, the immune system, reproductive system, digestive system, etc.

6.) What’s the point of Chiropractic?

Chiropractic adjustments have the goal of bringing the spine and body into better alignment to relieve the stress on nerves so you can be as healthy as possible.  When the body is well-aligned, your body mechanics are improved (you can move better, have better balance, and less injuries from wear and tear).  In addition, you can think clearer, interact better with others and life doesn’t seem as difficult.  Thirdly, your body works better as a whole – you don’t get sick as easily, you recover faster, and all systems function as expected.  While pain is a good motivator to look for help, pain-based chiropractic care (seeing the chiropractor only when you have pain) means you may not develop lasting changes to structure of biomechanical function.  If you are looking for improvements in performance, mood, behaviour, mental acuity, immunity, organ function, sensory processing and chronic conditions, higher commitment levels (frequent care over a longer period of time) are necessary.  Just as there are no short cuts to inner peace (imagine the Dalai Lama reading “Shortcut to Inner Peace in 7 Days”), chiropractic is a process in the greater fabric of healthy living, including nutrition, exercise, rest, positive thinking, supportive community and purpose in life.

If you know someone who puts their (or their family`s) health on a high priority and are willing to commit time, energy and money to it, please contact us for a free consultation!